‘Fixing Intel’ is a wake-up call for analysts everywhere
Blog: Application Platform Strategies
Blogger: Richard Watson
(Note: this subject of this article is military intelligence, not Intel Corporation, the semiconductor chip maker).
This article from last Wednesday’s Financial Times hit me like a bucket of icy water in the face. The article describes a report published by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think-tank, on the abject failure of military intelligence gathering and analysis in Afghanistan. The report’s primary author, Major General Michael T. Flynn, is the top US intelligence officer in Afghanistan: no out-of-touch, back-room thinker. Reading the report itself was like another icy drenching.
As the FT article relays, Maj. Gen. Flynn’s report is a “scathing critique of US military intelligence-gathering, warning that a failure to understand local communities has deprived commanders of the information needed to contain the Taliban.” The directness and harshness of the criticism in the report is startling:
“US intelligence officers and analysts can do little but shrug in response to high-level decision-makers seeking the knowledge, analysis and information they need to wage a successful counterinsurgency.”
“The format of intelligence products matters. Commanders who think PowerPoint storyboards and color-coded spreadsheets are adequate for describing the Afghan conflict and its complexities have some soul searching to do. Sufficient knowledge will not come from slides with little more text than a comic strip. Commanders must demand substantive written narratives and analyses from their intel shops and make the time to read them. There are no shortcuts.”
“In a recent project ordered by the White House, analysts could barely scrape together enough information to formulate rudimentary assessments of pivotal Afghan districts. It is little wonder, then, that many decision-makers rely more upon newspapers than military intelligence to obtain ground truth.”
Looking at my own ‘intel’
This report was a timely reminder for me to critically examine my own work. I need to constantly ask myself: can my clients make critical decisions based on my analysis? Keeping this question front of mind separates me from the military analysts Maj. Gen. Flynn said often felt their jobs were “more like fortune-telling than serious detective work”.
I’m in the midst of documenting the findings of a field research project on business process management. Principal analyst Mike Gotta describes the methodology:
“Contextual Research (CR) is a people-centric approach toward gathering data from the field and using it to formulate research positions and recommendations that support the IT strategies of Burton Group clients. CR is unique in that it is driven by the people participating in the field study rather than by analysts. Study participants tell their own stories with minimal guidance or prompting. This non-intrusive, ethnographic-like approach captures an enormous amount of factual and opinionated information. When combined with stories from other study participants, the collective data represents a unique corpus of perspectives on a topic that is not easily duplicated through other means (e.g., vendor briefings, industry surveys, and traditional customer inquiries).”
Consolidating the data, identifying patterns and trends within the stories, I feel the team has arrived at a deep understanding of the state of the art in BPM. This context helps me avoid one of the greatest failings according to Maj. Gen. Flynn’s report “the tendency to overemphasize detailed information about the enemy at the expense of the political, economic, and cultural environment that supports it”. This lack of environmental analysis meant the intelligence community were “no more than fingernail deep in our understanding of the environment.”
I don’t make the dubious connection between deadly warfare and IT industry analysis unconsciously. I have the upmost respect for military service people and the sacrifices they are prepared to make for the rest of us. I understand what is at stake in war and business is different. But at one level, industry analysts have the same aim as their military counterparts: to satisfy “decision-makers seeking the knowledge, analysis and information they need”, not to wage a counterinsurgency, but to run a business.
Something for architects too
Architects are the core audience for my Burton Group analysis; they will also find this report valuable. The report lists the three things the few competent intelligence operations in Afghanistan do:
· “First, they make every effort to advertise collection and production capabilities and to make these capabilities available to the battalions.
· Second, they send analysts down to augment battalion and company-level intelligence support teams even if only on a rotating basis.
· And third, they produce written summaries that incorporate everyone’s activities in the area of operations – civil affairs, PRTs, the Afghan government, and security forces – rather than merely rehashing kinetic incidents already covered in battalion-level intelligence summaries.”
Doing those three things: communicating information effectively, collaborating on the front line, and incorporating multiple perspectives into analysis are crucial and unique functions of architects. This report is exemplar in speaking truth to power, another difficult but critical task of architects. One constant refrain in the programmatic change initiatives we analyze, be it SOA, BPM, or EA is “technology is the easy bit; changing culture is the hard part.” This report is valuable in suggesting concrete ways the intelligence community can change not just their modus operandi (MO), but the culture driving their MO.
I urge you to read the short FT article. After that, believe me, you will find it hard to resist reading the full 28-page report. It is one of the most insightful pieces of writing I have ever seen. You can download Maj. Gen. Flynn’s report here from the Center for Strategic and International Studies website.